Chinks in The Armor of Light
By Chris Knox
More than thirty years ago my late father Neal Knox contemplated potential faults in the “Guns and Babies Coalition” that played such an important role in electing President Reagan. He worried that the coalition, although solid with strong cultural and ideological ties binding pro-gun and pro-life views together, could fray along certain ideological lines. Pro-gun Libertarians tend to lean pro-choice, while pro-life could be stretched and redefined to be anti-gun. Highlighting these ideological conflicts seems to be the whole point of the new documentary, Armor of Light.
Rev. Rob Schenck, who has spent decades in the pro-life movement working with the likes of Operation Rescue and his own Faith and Action organization, is featured in the film to illustrate exactly the mindset Dad had considered back in the Reagan days. Rev. Schenck’s break with the Guns side of the Guns and Babies Coalition drives the documentary film, which was directed by Abigail Disney. Ms. Disney is the granddaughter of Walt’s brother and business partner Roy Disney. She uses her share of the family fortune to promote causes that interest her, one of which now appears to be gun control.
Along with Rob Schenck, Armor of Light introduces Lucia McBath, whom we learn is the mother of Jordan Davis. Davis was the Florida teenager who was killed by Michael Dunn in an altercation over loud music in November of 2012. Dunn was eventually convicted after an initial mistrial. Lucia went on to become an activist with Michael Bloomberg’s puppet organization Moms Demand Action. Her path intersects with the aforementioned Rev. Schenck who over the course of the film experiences a “road to Damascus” conversion on the gun issue.
As a piece of cinematic art, Armor of Light is a gem. It has gorgeous production values – beautiful music, marvelous photography, and some remarkable imagery. In other words, it’s first-rate propaganda. The script follows the standard Brady Campaign/Michael Bloomberg formula:
· Show the debate in black and white terms
· Focus on feelings
· Cast NRA as an evil monolith
· Portray NRA leaders as villains
· Ignore or at most treat in the abstract any positive use of a gun
· Portray self-defense as equivalent to legalized lynching, playing up racial overtones
I was genuinely disappointed with the film, in part because I played a tiny role in its making. I’d had a lengthy talk with Abigail Disney over lunch while she was developing background for the movie. Without going into detail about the project, a producer had approached me saying she’d be interested in talking with me about the NRA and the gun issue. Stressing that I wanted to keep any discussion on the topic of the issue and away from the NRA, I agreed to meet.
As I recall, Jordan Davis came up in our conversation. The case was then fresh and I was reluctant to talk about it because the facts were a bit murky and I wanted to reserve judgment, but I believed Dunn’s actions were questionable at best. I was not alone in questioning the shooting. Reviewing various gun discussion boards from the time the commentary overwhelmingly condemned Dunn’s actions.
But my arguments and the views of responsible gun owners were never addressed in the film. Apparently that would muddy the narrative.
During the film Rev. Schenck makes a trip to the range to shoot a handgun and an AR15. He is not at the range to learn about guns, but to reinforce his emotional reaction. He says his “mental exercise” is to focus on Sandy Hook and what those little kids went through as he fires the AR15. Frankly, it was unsettling that this is where his mind went. I have to wonder what he thinks sitting inside of a one-ton steel projectile as he approaches a school crosswalk, or what goes through his mind when he picks up a chef’s knife. He explicitly states, “I don’t trust myself” with a gun, in the film. Maybe he shouldn’t have one – or a car, or a knife for that matter.
But the fact that there are many hazards in the world and many tools can be misused would draw focus away from the gun as the symbol of evil, and so muddy the narrative.
As Schenck makes his break with his conservative friends in the pro-life movement, they get predictably angry. Also predictably, none of the speakers that make it to the screen is a particularly good representative of the pro-rights argument, speaking only in bumper sticker slogans. Some of those slogans are pithy expressions of ideas one already has – I particularly like the one about an armed society being polite – but they don’t change minds.
As the credits roll, we see Rev. Schenck talking with various small, but ever-growing audiences. It is apparent that Rob Schenck and Abigail Disney have placed a wedge over a crack in the Guns and Babies Coalition. Whether that crack is a scratch or a structural flaw, only time can tell.
Armor of Light does not call for any specific measures, but the emotional tug is clearly opposed to gun rights, pulling the argument toward the slippery slope of gun control. Guns are bad, the NRA is evil, and anyone who thinks otherwise is gently implied to be racist. It was truly disappointing. It was such a pleasant lunch.